Draft audit: Edmonson let taxpayers pay for Mardi Gras hotel rooms for friends, family

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NEW ORLEANS — A draft audit report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor outlines a life of luxury lived by former La. State Police Col. Mike Edmonson free-of-charge, but that report indicates the former commander of the state’s top law enforcement agency shared the wealth, especially when it came to hotel rooms during Mardi Gras.

The draft audit was obtained by our partners at the New Orleans Advocate.

Law enforcement officers are as in-demand as available hotel rooms during Carnival and when the city of New Orleans calls on the state police to help put boots on the ground, the NOPD foots the bill for state troopers’ rooms.

In 2014, when the number of New Orleans Police officers rapidly approached a modern-day low, grinding to 1,135 officers by year’s end, the city again called on the state police for help during Carnival.

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“You've got to look and say where are things happening, you don't have the manpower that you've had in the past, so why don't we put people where things are happening,” Edmonson said in 2014 at a press conference about Mardi Gras security.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said for years, the process of requesting state troopers has been the same.

“We send a letter to the colonel asking for a certain number of state troopers. We then work to negotiate how many troopers we need versus how many he could really supply,” Harrison said in an interview.

Most of those troopers come in from out of town and need a place to stay while in New Orleans.

Placing them in downtown hotels makes it easier for them to work 12-hour shifts, with troopers closer to city’s center in case something goes wrong.

The Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association seeks out discounts from the city’s hoteliers to help house the troopers.

When the average reveler may spend hundreds of dollars a night to stay in the heart of Carnival, the NOPD would pay as little as $60.

“We figured out how many rooms were needed and then we figured out the funding for that and then the NOPD out of our budget provides the funding for that,” Harrison said.

Even with the discounts, NOPD records show the city spends more than $23,000 a year to house troopers during that 11-day stretch.

In 2017, the cost climbed to $38,905.

“We asked for more than we would usually ask for Mardi Gras because we had a week of NBA festivities right in the in the middle of Mardi Gras,” Harrison said.

Last year, the NBA All-Star Game brought even more people to the city and the undermanned NOPD police force was forced to lean more heavily on the state police.

While the NOPD may foot the bill, the state police assigns troopers and supervisors to the different hotels.

The draft audit report says all of those state police rooms were not used by state troopers.
Edmonson, “Allowed his friends and family to stay in those extra hotel rooms free of charge,” the report reads.

Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said he is not surprised to hear the allegations Edmonson misused hotel rooms.

“I’ve been hearing about it for years. Everything I’ve heard is a result of troopers and former troopers and people in the hotel/motel industry providing that information. So, it was a well-known secret,” Goyeneche said.

New Orleans City Council members Susan Guidry and Jason Williams both weighed in on the story Thursday, prior to a council meeting.

"If it's true, it's not appropriate and that's a problem," said Guidry.

"What I've heard is problematic," said Williams. "We've got to look at every single dollar we spend when we're trying to make law enforcement robust in the city of New Orleans."

Auditors found multiple rooms in Edmonson's name from 2013 to 2016. One year, the report says two rooms at the swanky Windsor Court hotel in the Warehouse District were assigned to an unnamed state trooper.

That state trooper told auditors he did not stay at the Windsor Court that year.

According to the draft audit, Edmonson's emails showed the colonel he checked into one of the unnamed trooper's rooms using his reward number.

In 2014, when the city’s need for security help was critical, the audit says a $310 bill with Mike Edmonson’s name on it for a 5-night stay from Feb. 28 to March 5 at the Roosevelt Hotel was paid by the city of New Orleans.

According to the draft audit, Edmonson was also reimbursed by the LSP for some of those same nights at the Hotel Mazarin.

That bill also has Edmonson's name and what appears to be his signature on it.

“If those rooms were being used for, by friends of Col. Edmonson and they weren't troopers and they weren't doing state police work there, that could be a criminal problem for Col. Edmonson,” Goyeneche said.

Auditors said Edmonson told them he booked the rooms at the Hotel Mazarin to hold meetings there, but troopers told investigators all their meetings were held a few blocks away at the state police office in the Cabildo.    

Auditors also found the NOPD paid for a room at the Windsor Court that was used by Edmonson's friends in 2015.

The unnamed couple spent five nights at the hotel and paid for $919 in incidental charges and parking on their credit card, but the NOPD paid for the room that was in an unidentified trooper's name.

Then, in 2016, the draft report says Edmonson let his step-daughter and her friend stay in a state police room at the Loews Hotel for several nights. When they left, troopers moved in.

“I would imagine that there is going to be an investigation into that. The colonel and I always met. We were always in close contact about what he needed and what he could provide. So, I took them at their word that it would be used for the troopers for the purpose of Mardi Gras,” Harrison said.

It was an honor system, Harrison said, one that may have been dishonored for years at the highest levels of the state police.

“What is disturbing is that it took this long for the truth to be known and I think the reason for that is that people, while disgusted, were afraid to formally confirm for the record what their superior was doing because he was viewed as invincible and he was in a position of power,” Goyeneche said.

Edmonson did not respond to requests for comment and the legislative auditor gave him until last Tuesday to formally respond.

While that response will be included when the final audit is released by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, and the LSP wouldn’t go into specifics, spokesman Maj. Doug Cain said, “We have already made changes based on things that have come to light.”